White House officials offered a pointed, if polite, warning to 10 Senate Republicans planning to pitch a scaled-back coronavirus relief package to President Biden at the White House on Monday evening: Think bigger.
Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, played down expectations of the meeting, a critical first test of Mr. Biden’s dueling commitments to bipartisanship and speeding pandemic aid, saying no deal would be done without further negotiations — a statement aimed at reassuring Democrats leery of a fast, weak deal.
“What this meeting is not is a forum for the president to make or accept an offer,” Ms. Psaki told reporters on Monday afternoon, repeating the president’s determination to push through a $1.9 trillion stimulus bill.
“The risk is not that it is too big, this package,” Ms. Psaki added. “The risk is that it is too small. That remains his view.”
A coalition of center-right Republican senators, led by Susan Collins of Maine, on Monday outlined a more limited $618 billion stimulus plan, which they are billing as a way for Mr. Biden to pass a pandemic aid bill with bipartisan support and make good on his inauguration pledge to unite the country.
With 10 Republicans on board, joining the Senate’s 50 Democrats, a bipartisan bill could overcome the chamber’s 60-vote filibuster rule. But Democrats have shown little enthusiasm for a measure that amounts to less than one third of what the president says is needed.
Still, after receiving a letter from the senators on Sunday requesting a meeting, Mr. Biden called Ms. Collins and invited her and the other signers to the White House. He also spoke with Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader.
The Republican proposal is likely to be met with resistance from congressional Democrats, who are preparing this week to begin laying the groundwork for passing Mr. Biden’s plan through a process known as budget reconciliation, which would allow it to bypass a filibuster and pass solely with Democratic votes.
The proposal would include $160 billion for vaccine distribution and development, coronavirus testing and the production of personal protective equipment; $20 billion toward helping schools reopen; more relief for small businesses; and additional aid to individuals. The package would also extend enhanced unemployment benefits of $300 a week — currently slated to lapse in March — until June 30.
“We recognize your calls for unity and want to work in good faith with your administration,” wrote the Republican group, which includes Senators Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Mitt Romney of Utah.
The measure omits a federal minimum wage increase that Mr. Biden included in his plan. It would also whittle down his proposal to send $1,400 checks to many Americans, and limit it to lower-income earners.
The proposal calls for checks of up to $1,000 for individuals making $50,000 a year or less and families with a combined income of up to $100,000, with individuals earning less than $40,000 — and families earning less than $80,000 — receiving the full amount.
Previous rounds of direct payments were targeted to Americans earning less than $99,000 annually, with those earning less than $75,000 receiving the full amount.
Congress approved more than $4 trillion through a series of bills last year to address the coronavirus crisis and its economic fallout. Most recently, in December, lawmakers passed a $900 billion stimulus plan that included $600 direct checks to many Americans.
Mr. Biden received an important boost on Monday ahead of his meeting with the senators: Gov. Jim Justice of West Virginia, a close ally of former President Trump, said he supported a bigger relief package than the one that the center-right Republicans are proposing.
The American economy will return to its pre-pandemic size by the middle of this year, even if Congress does not approve any more federal aid for the recovery, but it will be years before everyone thrown off the job by the pandemic is able to return to work, the Congressional Budget Office projected on Monday.
The new projections from the office, which is nonpartisan and issues regular budgetary and economic forecasts, are an improvement from the office’s forecasts last summer. Officials told reporters on Monday that the brightening outlook was a result of large sectors of the economy adapting better and more rapidly to the pandemic than originally expected.
They also reflect increased growth from a $900 billion economic aid package that Congress passed in December, which included $600 direct checks to individuals and more generous unemployment benefits.
The budget office now expects the unemployment rate to fall to 5.3 percent at the end of the year, down from an 8.4 percent projection last July. The economy is expected to grow 3.7 percent for the year, after recording a much smaller contraction in 2020 than the budget office initially expected.
The rosier projections are likely to inject even more debate into the discussions over whether to pass President Biden’s $1.9 trillion economic rescue package. It could embolden Republicans who have pushed Mr. Biden to scale back the plan significantly, saying the economy does not need so much additional federal support and that another big package could “overheat” the economy.
But the report shows little risk of that happening. The economy is projected to remain below potential levels until 2025 on its current path. And big economic risks remain. The number of employed Americans will not return to its pre-pandemic levels until 2024, officials predicted, reflecting the prolonged difficulties of shaking off the virus and returning to full levels of economic activity.
The Federal Reserve chair, Jerome H. Powell, warned last week that the economy was “a long way from a full recovery” with millions still out of work and many small businesses facing pressure.
Budget officials said the rebound in growth and employment could be significantly accelerated if public health authorities were able to more rapidly deploy coronavirus vaccines across the population.
As it stands, the budget office sees little evidence of growth running hot enough in the years to come to spur a rapid increase in inflation. It forecast inflation levels below the Federal Reserve’s target of 2 percent for years to come, even with the Fed holding interest rates near zero.
Other independent forecasts, including one from the Brookings Institution last week, have projected that another dose of economic aid — like the $1.9 trillion package Mr. Biden has proposed — would help the economy grow more rapidly, topping its pre-pandemic path by year’s end.
A House Republican staff lawyer who led President Donald J. Trump’s early defense against his first impeachment in 2019 recommended one of the lawyers who Mr. Trump hired over the weekend to represent him in his second trial, a person familiar with the decision said. The two lawyers know each other well; they are cousins.
Stephen R. Castor, the congressional investigator who battled Democrats over Mr. Trump’s attempts to pressure Ukraine to investigate his political rival, urged the former president to consider hiring Bruce L. Castor Jr., a former district attorney in Pennsylvania, according to the person, who requested anonymity to discuss private conversations. A second person confirmed the two men are related.
Stephen Castor made the recommendation in recent weeks, one of the people said. Mr. Trump announced on Sunday that he had hired Bruce Castor along with David Schoen, a Georgia-based lawyer who had represented Mr. Trump’s longtime adviser, Roger J. Stone Jr. A day earlier, the former president had parted ways with five members of his impeachment defense team.
His new lawyers will need to work quickly. The first filing in the case — Mr. Trump’s formal answer to the House’s “incitement of insurrection” charge for his role in stirring up a mob that attacked the Capitol last month — is due on Tuesday. The trial itself is set to start next week.
It is unclear how close the Castor cousins are. Stephen Castor is a veteran of some of Capitol Hill’s most fiercely partisan oversight disputes in the last decade. He worked on investigations into the Obama administration’s handling of an attack of the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, and a gun trafficking program known as Operation Fast and Furious.
In 2019, working under Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, he took on an unusually public role blunting Democrats’ impeachment investigation into Mr. Trump’s attempts to pressure Ukraine to smear then-possible Democratic presidential candidate Joseph R. Biden Jr. The unassuming Mr. Castor questioned witnesses behind closed doors and during open hearings broadcast live across the country.
Bruce Castor is best known for declining to prosecute Bill Cosby for sexual assault when he was the Montgomery County, Pa., district attorney. He also served a brief stint as the state’s acting attorney general.
An earlier version of this item incorrectly stated that Stephen Castor was portrayed on Saturday Night Live. In fact, he was not.
Among President Biden’s most specific foreign policy promises was a pledge to convene a global democracy summit during his first year in office. The gathering would be intended to take a public stand against the authoritarian and populist tides that rose during the presidency of Donald J. Trump and, as Mr. Biden and his advisers see it, threaten to swamp Western political values.
In the weeks since Mr. Biden’s election, however, America’s own democracy has been staggering. In January, a mob of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol and disrupted the hallowed peaceful transfer of power. Next week, the Senate will begin its second presidential impeachment trial of Mr. Trump in a year. Republicans in Congress are poised to impose legislative gridlock by obstructing Mr. Biden’s every move.
The sense of a dysfunctional, if not entirely broken, democratic system has foreign rivals crowing — and suggesting that the United States has no business lecturing other nations.
“America no longer charts the course and so has lost all right to set it,” Konstantin Kosachev, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the upper house of Russia’s Parliament, wrote on Facebook after the Capitol riot. “And, even more so, to impose it on others.”
Administration officials say that neither opportunistic commentary from foreign rivals nor recent expressions of good-faith skepticism from foreign policy analysts at home has tempered the plan Mr. Biden promised as a candidate: convening a “summit for democracy” where like-minded leaders could discuss ways to strengthen their own systems and protect them from threats like corruption, election security breaches, disinformation and authoritarian models.
A person familiar with the summit planning, which has been underway since before the election, said Mr. Biden was undeterred by the recent political strife in the United States and was likely to act as the host at an event with fellow heads of state, although details like the timing and location have not been determined. Others familiar with the process said they expected an event near the end of the year. A White House official did not respond to a request for comment.
In Washington, however, a debate over the idea — and whether to postpone the plan — has broken out among former United States government officials and academics. It narrowly concerns plans for the summit but involves larger anxieties about the country’s role as a global leader in the post-Trump era.
“The United States has lost credibility; there’s no question about that,” said James Goldgeier, a professor of international relations at American University and a former National Security Council aide in the Clinton administration. “If you have total gridlock on Capitol Hill and you don’t have the ability to get things done to improve people’s lives, you’re not going to command a lot of moral authority.”
Mr. Biden had planned to travel to the State Department on Monday to deliver a foreign policy speech. But that was postponed because of the winter weather complications across the region, according to a White House official.
Katie Rogers contributed reporting.
The recent surge in GameStop’s stock — propelled by individual investors who banded together on Reddit — has put new pressure on the Biden administration’s pick for the top job at the Securities and Exchange Commission, Gary Gensler.
Mr. Gensler would inherit the agency as it faces calls to more tightly regulate online trading programs such as Robinhood that critics say enable unsophisticated investors to make risky financial bets, Deborah B. Solomon reports in The New York Times. But defenders of such platforms say they help flatten out inequities in the financial markets that have long favored deep-pocketed firms over average people. The S.E.C. said it was “closely monitoring” the situation in a statement.
“What’s going on with GameStop has almost nothing to do with GameStop as a company,” said Barbara Roper, director of investor protection for the Consumer Federation of America. “When you see the markets essentially turned into a video game or turned into a casino, that actually has some pretty serious repercussions for the way we use the markets to fund our economy.”
The question for Mr. Gensler, and the agency, will be what, if anything, they should do about concerns from people like Ms. Roper.
The S.E.C.’s role has traditionally been to ensure that companies disclose enough information for people to make informed investment decisions. But it does so by enforcing laws that were written before the advent of trading platforms such as Robinhood. Mr. Gensler’s first moves, those who know him say, will be investigating the GameStop surge to figure out who benefited, as there is speculation that it may have been fueled by some big funds after all.
Ten Republican senators asked President Biden on Sunday to drastically scale back his $1.9 trillion pandemic aid bill, offering a $600 billion alternative that they said could pass quickly with bipartisan support.
But their proposal met a tepid reception from Democrats, who are preparing this week to move forward with their own sweeping package — even if it means eventually cutting Republicans out of the process. Haunted by what they see as their miscalculations in 2009, the last time they controlled the government and faced an economic crisis, the White House and top Democrats are determined to move quickly this time on their stimulus plan, and reluctant to pare it back or make significant changes that would dilute it with no certainty of bringing Republicans on board.
“The dangers of undershooting our response are far greater than overshooting,” said Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the new majority leader. “We should have learned the lesson of 2008 and 2009, when Congress was too timid and constrained in its response to the financial crisis.”
Their strategy can be traced to 12 years ago, when Barack Obama became president, Democrats controlled both houses of Congress, and they tackled both an economic rescue package and a sweeping health care overhaul.
In retrospect, in the quest to win Republican backing for both, Democrats say, they settled for too small an economic stimulus and extended talks on the health care measure for too long.
That view was driving the party’s unenthusiastic response on Sunday to the new offer from the Senate Republicans who asked for a meeting with Mr. Biden to lay out a substantially smaller stimulus proposal. In a letter, the 10 senators — notably enough to defeat a filibuster — said their priorities aligned with Mr. Biden’s on crucial areas such as vaccine distribution.
While talks with Republicans are expected to continue, Democrats are set this week to put in motion a budget process known as reconciliation that is not subject to a filibuster, allowing them to push through pandemic legislation on their own if no bipartisan agreement emerges.
Mr. Biden would no doubt prefer to push his proposal through with bipartisan support to show he is able to bridge the differences between the two parties. But the White House has been adamant that it will not chop up his plan to try to secure Republican backing and that while the scope could be adjusted, the changes will not be too substantial.
“We have learned from past crises that the risk is not doing too much,” Mr. Biden, who was vice president in 2009, said on Friday at the White House, striking the same theme as Mr. Schumer. “The risk is not doing enough.”
Emily Cochrane, Luke Broadwater and Alan Rappeport contributed reporting.
New administrations are generally cautious about changing their predecessors’ legal positions. But this time may be different when it comes to repudiating former President Donald J. Trump’s agenda in major cases, including the latest challenge to the Affordable Care Act.
In a position that prizes its reputation for credibility, consistency and independence, solicitors general of both parties have said they are wary of veering from positions staked out by their predecessors.
Justice Elena Kagan, who was President Barack Obama’s first solicitor general before joining the court, has said, for instance, that “a change in position is a really big deal that people should hesitate a long time over.”
But a new law review article by Michael R. Dreeben, a longtime deputy solicitor general, presents a dissenting view, concluding that the Biden administration need not fear announcing bold reversals of stances taken by the Trump administration.
“The court will understand that new administrations have new views, particularly coming on the heels of the Trump administration, which in many ways pressed a radical vision of its jurisprudential agenda on the court that a successor administration is entitled to push back on,” Mr. Dreeben, who worked in the office for more than 30 years, said in an interview.
As inches of snow pile up during Washington’s biggest winter storm in two years, there is one place that won’t be seeing any snowball fights.
The Capitol grounds, one of the best spots in the city for sledding, are now off limits, another reverberation of the rampage there on Jan. 6. The city’s schools are all virtual on Monday; schools had been slated to reopen to some students in person but closed because of the weather.
Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District of Columbia’s nonvoting House delegate, has urged the Capitol Police to allow the tradition to continue this week. The activity could be done safely, Ms. Norton said in a statement on Saturday, “by allowing only children and adults accompanied by children” into the area.
But a Capitol Police spokeswoman, Eva Malecki, citing the current security concerns and the city’s coronavirus restrictions, said it could not be permitted.
While a rule against sledding on the Capitol grounds has been in place for decades, it was rarely enforced until after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
Ms. Norton has pushed for sledding to be allowed on the grounds for years; she first succeeded in slipping a pro-sledding provision into the omnibus spending bill in 2016.
The previous year, Washingtonians held a “snow-in” at the complex to protest the rule.
The ban has been revived at another moment of heightened tensions. Instead of children making snowmen and snow angels, visitors to the Capitol complex these days are greeted by seven-foot-tall, unscalable fencing that went up after the riot.
The acting chief of the Capitol Police, Yogananda D. Pittman, is calling for “vast improvements” to security on the Capitol grounds after the attack, which injured nearly 140 police officers and killed an officer and a member of the mob.
Chief Pittman, who took over the department when her predecessor resigned days after the riot, said that experts had argued for greater security measures for the Capitol even before the Sept. 11 attacks.
But in a trying year, Ms. Norton said, the sledding tradition was one joy that should not be erased.
“Children across America have endured an extremely challenging year,” she said, “and D.C. children in particular have not only endured the coronavirus pandemic but now the militarization of their city, with the hostile symbols of fences and barbed wire. Sledding is a simple, childhood thrill. It is the least we can allow for our resilient children this winter season.”
With the departure of former President Donald J. Trump, the G.O.P. has become a leaderless party, with past standard-bearers changing their voter registrations, luminaries like Senator Rob Portman of Ohio retiring, and far-right extremists like Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia building a brand on a web of dangerous conspiracy theories.
With no dominant leader other than the deplatformed one-term president, a radical right movement that became emboldened under Mr. Trump has been maneuvering for more power. More moderate Republicans feel increasingly under attack, but so far have made little progress in galvanizing voters, donors or new recruits for office.
Instead, in Arizona, the state Republican Party has brazenly punished dissent, formally censuring three of its own: Gov. Doug Ducey, former Senator Jeff Flake and Cindy McCain, the widow of former Senator John McCain. The party cited their criticisms of Mr. Trump and their defenses of the state’s election process.
In Wyoming, Representative Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican, headlined a rally on Thursday to denounce Representative Liz Cheney for her vote to impeach Mr. Trump. Joining Mr. Gaetz by phone was Donald Trump Jr., the former president’s eldest son, who has been working to unseat Ms. Cheney and replace her with someone he believes better represents the views of her constituents — in other words, fealty to his father.
And in Michigan, Meshawn Maddock, a Trump supporter who pushed false claims about voter fraud and organized bus loads of Republicans from the state to attend the Jan. 6 rally in Washington, is running unopposed to become the new co-chairman of the state party.
There are still Republican officials who are responsible for the party’s political interests, but they are preaching unity to factions that have no desire to unite.
In an interview on Friday, Ronna McDaniel — the chairwoman of the Republican National Committee and a close ally of Mr. Trump’s — sounded exasperated at the public brawling.
“If you have a family dispute, don’t go on ‘Jerry Springer,’” Ms. McDaniel said. “Do it behind closed doors. It’s my role to call them and explain that if we don’t keep our party united and focused on 2022, we will lose. If we are attacking fellow Republicans and cancel culture within our own party, it is not helpful to winning majorities.”